Discourse-based evidence for an ergative analysis of Cebuano
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The case-marking systems of Philippine languages have been difficult to classify as either nominative-accusative (NOM-ACC) or ergative-absolutive (ERG-ABS). The question hinges on the status of the “object-focus” clause type. Is it a passive voice clause as traditional analyses (beginning with Bloomfield 1917) suggest? Or is it active voice — the basic transitive clause type — as an ergative analysis would conclude? While purely structural clues at clause-level cannot tell us unambiguously which analysis is appropriate for this group of languages, a discourse-functional approach offers an escape from this dilemma. Cebuano is spoken as a first language by about seventeen million people in the central and southern Philippines. It has been previously described by Morey (1961), Wolff (1965, 1967), Bunye and Yap (1971), and Bell (1976). The present paper presents evidence that the object-focus clause type in Cebuano is active voice, based on an assessment of the relative topic continuity of noun phrases in transitive clauses in a Cebuano narrative text taken from Wolff (1967).